It’s impossible to select just one or two highlights that we’ll remember as Fr. Niehoff moves to his next assignment. This is a man whose life gives life to the phrase ‘men and women for others.'”
— George (M.D.) and Terri Lewandowski ’78
In 2005, at his inauguration as the 24th president of John Carroll University, Rev. Robert L. Niehoff, S.J., challenged the Carroll community to engage the world more deeply. This was an integral principle that guided his leadership for 12 years. He encouraged members of the JCU community to pursue diversity, peace, justice, and the Kingdom of God by opening themselves wholeheartedly to others, especially those on the margins of society. Fr. Niehoff worked tirelessly to ensure Carroll has become a vehicle of change for our students, Northeast Ohio, and the world.
Fr. Niehoff challenged the University to create a Catholicity statement to define the campus environment as one in which Jesuit traditions and Catholic culture profoundly and creatively influence the community’s inclusive search for wisdom and understanding. This culture forms the whole person – intellectually, spiritually, and socially. Facilitated by Rev. Howard Gray, S.J., the University developed the statement reaffirming JCU’s Jesuit Catholic identity while welcoming people of all faiths and no faith.
“Fr. Niehoff’s dedication and leadership of JCU for the past 12 years has been inspiring. In fact, as the institution hit rough patches, he worked even harder to ensure success. We’re lucky to have had Fr. Niehoff, and I’m better for knowing him. I thank him for recruiting me to the Board. My tenure on the Board will come to an end with only serving one extraordinary president.”
— Dan Frate ’83, member of JCU’s Board of Directors
Fr. Niehoff championed meaningful work with one goal in mind – transforming the lives of students through integrated education. He was committed to making a John Carroll education accessible to more people. His love and support of students has been evident in the scholarships and programs he created, as well as his time spent with students on retreats. He renewed JCU’s commitment to the Jesuit philosophy of cura personalis, care for the whole person—mind, body and spirit.
Fr. Niehoff invited the Carroll community to think of service as a human obligation – that all are called to make a difference in the world. He realized that this obligation is felt most deeply when people are touched by direct experience. This led to the creation of the Center for Service and Social Action (CSSA) as a hub for service-learning on campus. CSSA develops service programs that build mutually beneficial relationships, create learning opportunities, encourage reflection and active citizenship, and nourish spirituality.
Fr. Niehoff’s love and support of students was evident as he celebrated Sunday evening Mass with them and led them on retreats. Fr. Niehoff, who always looked forward to praying with students, emphasized that liturgy and prayer give life to students and challenge them to live their faith more deeply.
Fr. Niehoff strengthened academics at Carroll by hiring new faculty, endowed chairs, three deans, and two provosts who reaffirm the Jesuit Catholic approach to education through ethical servant leadership. Ed Hahnenberg, Ph.D., the Jack and Mary Jane Breen Chair in Catholic Systematic Theology in the College of Arts and Sciences, is an example. Fr. Niehoff also solidified the administration by hiring nine vice presidents.
Fr. Niehoff recognized the need to honor John Carroll alumni-veterans who were called to serve their country in World War II and the Vietnam War and therefore were unable to finish their degrees at JCU. Fr. Niehoff found a way to use their Military Service credits to award them Bachelor of Humane Letters (honorary) degrees from Carroll. The University invited them to receive their degrees and attend Mass with their families.
“Since Fr. Niehoff arrived at JCU, I’ve been impressed with the humble and selfless way he has conducted himself in good and challenging times. While he regularly and proudly brags about the good work we do for others within and beyond the University, I’ve never heard him take any credit for his own contributions, which most likely stems from his deep commitment to the Jesuit motto ad majorem Dei gloriam.”
—Jim Lissemore, Ph.D., biology professor
As a result of Fr. Niehoff ’s relationship with the family of Tim Russert ’72, John Carroll established the NBC/John Carroll University “Meet The Press” Fellowship. The nine-month fellowship, which is awarded to a graduating senior pursuing a career in political journalism, is an opportunity exclusive to John Carroll students. All fellows have been offered positions with NBC after completing their fellowship. As a tribute to Russert’s legacy, the University renamed the Department of Communication and Theatre Arts in his honor.
As part of nurturing an engaged and respectful community, Fr. Niehoff developed a more welcoming culture in which students, faculty, and staff live, learn, work, and play. He created a more environmentally friendly campus, one that honors tradition and
has been beautified through landmarks and renovations.
For many students, the picturesque campus has become the door to the world.
“We wish more students knew how hard Fr. Niehoff worked to ensure that JCU was an inclusive and affordable place for all students. He has left a lasting legacy in our lives. We consider Father a lifelong friend and are so fortunate to have attended JCU during his tenure.”
— Justin ’07 and Liliana (Morales) ’07, ’12G Scales
In April 2018, Fr. Niehoff was named Provincial Assistant for Higher Education by Jesuits West, which encompasses Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
Additionally, he took on a new role at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States as Consultant to the Jesuit Conference President for Higher Education. He lives at the Colombiere Jesuit Community in Portland, Oregon.